Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Twisted Pixel
MSRP: 800 M$ (10 Big Macs)
In a time where graphics and immersive storytelling in gaming is constantly achieving new heights, there is something refreshing about the Xbox 360’s arcade collection. For bibliophiles, it’s like the Harry Potter to the War and Peace. For cinephiles, it’s like the Die Hard to the Citizen Kane. For gastrophiles, it’s like a burger to a filet mignon. Whatever it is, it can be a nice change of pace, especially if it’s a puzzling platformer that knows how to find the right mix of classic gameplay, functional innovation, and solid humor. ‘Splode ‘cross the gap for the in-depth.
As a rule, I try not to let work get in the way of my gaming. For that reason, I chose to finish playing Splosion Man last night instead of stopping to write a review of it, and I’m truly glad I did. For those of you who don’t know, Splosion Man is the latest offering by Twisted Pixel, the fine folks who gave us The Maw. While part of XBLA’s Summer of Arcade promotion, I feel like it’s kind of the bastard child when compared to Marvel vs Capcom 2 or even Turtles in Time: Re-shelled. The truth is, I’m having more fun with Splosion Man than I have with any other arcade title since Castle Crashers (once they decided to fix it, that is). Like I mentioned earlier, SM is a platformer with some pretty heavy puzzle roots. Some puzzles just have you thinking, but the majority of them also incorporate speed, timing, and reflexes. As far as platforming goes, you have all the usual staples during your journey from point A to point B, most notably the precise jumping ‘sploding across small platforms set above the intimidating 1-hit-kill lava/acid/etc. The game does introduce some nice new features to the genre, however, and one of which is the use of cinematic camera angles. At certain points in the game, you’re treated to an interesting view or angle that seems to break up the gameplay without taking away from the ability to control your character. Also, when faced with large puzzle rooms, the camera will back out so you can see the whole situation. Little things like this go a long way in seperating SM from some of the other platformers out there.
The game itself is rather simple. This is what the control scheme looks like:
Even with only the options to “move”, “’splode”, or some combination of the two, the game has a strange amount of depth. The basics of the game have you ‘sploding off walls, getting extra height off of ‘splosive barrels, and avoiding spikes/lava/acid/machine guns/etc. As you make your way through the 3 worlds (with 16+ levels each), however, you are constantly coming across new obstacles to impede your progress. Things like electric fields, de-‘sploders, and buzz-saw shooting robots are just some of the new things that pop up later in the game. This isn’t to say that things don’t get reused. I would be lying if I said that you didn’t do the same thing 8239048902 times, see the same textures 50 times, or hear the same sound bytes eleventy-million times. Oh, not to mention the amount of times you want to throw your controller through your television screen (I personally lost count). Yes, SM brings back the classic trial and error style gameplay that has a strangely bittersweet nostalgia attached to it. At the end of each world, there is a boss battle that punishingly reinforces this.
I mentioned earlier that this game is funny, and I should probably elaborate on that. It’s not funny like a Mel Brooks movie or even a Tim Schafer game, it’s more like watching a foreign sitcom when you’re three sheets to the wind: You’re not really sure what the hell is going on, but you’re laughing. Some of the things I found particularly humorous were the things that characters, especially the bosses, said. I also mentioned that I was particularly glad I finished it before reviewing it. The reason for this is two-fold. First, having beaten the single-player mode, I can say that I experienced enough of it to give a fair assessment. One of the reasons that I gave this game as good of a score as I did was because I have already gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it and I haven’t even touched the 4 player online co-op’s 50 unique levels. Second, and more importantly, I was able to experience the ending/ending credits. Wow, these were both truly epic. I would post a video for you, but I think that it might rob some of the satisfaction of actually getting there yourself. Let’s just say that I haven’t enjoyed an ending song so much since portal. Lastly, speaking of songs, it should be mentioned that SM has several fantastic songs in the game all centered around ‘Splosion Man/’Sploding/donuts. I’ll leave you with one of them.